“GaoKao Essays That Got a Zero”

Our ChinaGeeks Chinese editor 三水 pointed me in the direction of this collection of essays from last year’s college entrance examination, called “Don’t Laugh! GaoKao Essays That Got a Zero.” Many of the essays are actually quite funny, interesting, and even socially relevant, making direct or veiled references to social events. We’ve translated one of the essays below, and may translate more later if people enjoy this one.

This particular essay is quite obviously a piece of satire, and Western readers may find it reminding them of George Orwell’s Animal Farm a little bit ((In that it is a satire about a bad communist government using animals.)). It isn’t the prettiest sounding piece in the world, nor is it particularly well-organized (we must remember, after all, that there are time constraints involved in writing these essays), but the fact that it got a zero makes it pretty clear there’s a political aspect to the evaluation of GaoKao performance.

Writing Prompt

Taken from our translation of the national essay question last spring.

The rabbit is the sprinting champion of the small animal sporting games, but he cannot swim. Once, the rabbit was chased by the wolf to the riverside, and nearly caught. For the sake of developing the animals, the management enrolled the rabbit in swim training. He was in the same class as the cat, the tortoise, the squirrel, etc. The golden retriever and the tortoise learned to swim, and having acquired another skill, were very happy, but the rabbit and the squirrel still couldn’t swim even after spending a long time studying, and were very worried. Class instructor Duck said: “We, with our two legs, can swim, and you, with four legs, still can’t? 90% of success comes from effort! Come on! Quack quack!”

Critic frog sighed: “What rabbit is good at is running! Why are you only training the weaknesses and not developing the strengths? Thinker Crane said, “Life requires more than just one skill! If the rabbit can’t learn swimming he should learn burrowing, if the squirrel can’t learn swimming he should study tree climbing.”

Choose the correct perspective, firmly establish your point, choose your own style and heading, don’t write anything outside the scope of the provided material, don’t interplant or plagiarize.


Supposedly, this essay responding to the prompt above received zero points on last year’s GaoKao exam.

Oh rabbit, after reading this report, I can’t help but call you one thing from deep down in my heart: Stupid!

Haven’t you thought about what a zoo is for? Controlling animals! Isn’t the wolf an animal? You were nearly eaten by him, how is it that the zoo didn’t do jack about it? Why didn’t they punish the wolf and force the rabbit to study swimming? If there was justice, would there be any incidents of wolves catching rabbits in the zoo? Justice Lion is part of the Zoo Management, stupid rabbit!

The wolf chased you to the river, so the zoo tricked you into reporting for swimming class; next time when the wolf chases you to a cliff, will they make you report for flying class? Is the wolf chasing you just to scare you into taking this or that class? What is the relationship between the wolf and the zoo? Do you have a brain? Stupid rabbit!

I’m calling you stupid because you are stupid. Do you know who it is that runs these training classes? The zoo! Coach Duck is Park Director Tortoise’s ((The word he chose for tortoise also means, loosely, “son of a bitch”)) son-in-law. [They sent the wolf to chase you,] and now you’ve turned it around and are giving them money for training! 90% of success comes from effort, come on, quack quack! Bah! He’s a duck, are you a duck? Has it occurred to you that no one in your family can swim, from your grandfather’s grandfathers on down? After a few classes run by the zoo can they really teach you to swim? Is swimming in a rabbit’s nature? Weren’t your course entrance fees a waste of money? The golden retriever and the tortoise are even more stupid; they can swim naturally, did they spend all that wasted cash just to get a certificate? Without a certificate can they stop you from swimming? With one, will the wolf not dare eat you? Here, I need to address the golden retriever: you’ve always been a famous dog, but when running into a bad person you invariably flee, and you still spend money to study being a drowning dog? Aren’t you ashamed?

When encountering lawless people, why doesn’t the zoo encourage you to unite and rise as one to resist? Instead, they just teach you how to run. Running into the threat from a wolf isn’t a question of swimming ability, nor a question of all-around development, it’s a major question of right vs. wrong! Making money without doing any work, I think there’s no reason the zoo even needs to exist! The administrators do nothing, and conspire with the wolf, stupid rabbit!

Rabbit, I’m cursing you because you’re disappointing, why don’t you show a little independent spirit instead of just parroting other’s words and believing what others say? The duck says that if his two feet can swim, your four feet must be able to, does that make any sense? According to that theory, the centipede would be the fastest swimmer. 90% of success is effort, bah! He just became a duck, is that “success”? Is he a peerless duck? Study from him, stupid rabbit!

Then there’s the two experts, those charlatans. I have disliked that frog since last year when he came out with tears in his eyes, but at present I can’t be annoyed by it, as ‘there are more important things to attend to’. Isn’t that what he said last year? Isn’t the current threat of the wolf a “more important thing”? But he jumped out of this weak spot too, that’s his special ability, it’s called diverting attention and muddying the waters. Stupid rabbit! They’ve conspired to brainwash you, can’t you see?

And that crane is even stupider, living requires more than just one skill! If the rabbit can’t study swimming he should study digging! Bullshit, if you’ve already been chased to the river’s edge, is there time to dig a hole? You even believe this kind of expert advice, stupid rabbit!

If the wolf chases you, is that your fault as a rabbit? You don’t even have the opportunity to report it; if you report it justice lion might charge you with trying to subvert the zoo. The wolf and the lion are instruments of the zoo’s government, how could you report them? But if this kind of bad egg can’t be eradicated, is there any path for you? Studying swimming, could you avoid the wolf? I’m telling you, dogs can doggy-paddle, wolves can swim! The wolves are the dog’s forebears! Going to class is useless, next time you’re better off grabbing a pedicure knife ((A reference to the case of Deng Yujiao. Deng is a woman who, when being raped by an official at a massage parlor, stabbed him to death with a pedicure knife in self defense. At the time of last year’s GaoKao when this essay was written, her trial was about to begin and there was immense pressure on the government to go easy on her and punish the officials who survived. Everyone in the China could easily recognize this line as a reference to the Deng Yujiao case even now, at the time GaoKao tests were being graded, it was extremely obvious what the author was talking about.)).

Listen to me, I’m not wrong, stupid rabbit!

The editor who collected these essays commented on this one:

“I suggest the educational system encourage this kind of essay. The point of studying is not to echo what teachers or society like. The educational system will only be successful when it fosters the thinking and personality of students.”

0 thoughts on ““GaoKao Essays That Got a Zero””

  1. Custer, thanks for this post, good stuff!

    Is there any proof of its authenticity, though? I don’t suppose the gaokao hands back the essays to the students, where did these guys get this from? Isn’t the essay too well written for a nervous student in the middle of a gaokao?

    In any case it is an inspired piece. Unfortunately I get the impression from the site that the book just packs it all as silly humour.


  2. I wouldn’t say it’s “too well written” to have been written by a kid — it’s clever but I don’t think the writing was very good, personally — however, there isn’t any real proof of its authenticity. It is possible that it’s a real essay that was leaked by one of the graders. That certainly happens in the US, although it’s usually snippets rather than essays in full.

    My father grades the AP US History test essays in the US, and he always comes back from that week with funny quotations from stuff kids wrote in their essays. My personal favorite is from a kid who was writing about the slave trade in pre-Civil War America: “Africans tended to migrate to the South, where they could find work and a place to live.”

    Anyway, I kind of doubt it’s really from the test, but I thought it was interesting anyway, and there’s no way to be sure…


  3. I read the title of this to my (Chinese) girlfriend and the first thing she said was that the essays must have been too honest. Then she read the original Chinese essay and said it was actually very poorly written. She got the feeling that he was just talking, that it wasn’t written by someone taking the GaoKao, but by a much younger student. There are other essays she has read that were very well written that got zeros, however, she felt this one deserved a low score based on the writing.


  4. These are all fake essays, made up by people who have too much time or who really hate GaoKao. GaoKao essays are never released to the public. Where did the author get these “essays” from?


  5. Yeah, it’s written very colloquially, although I suppose that’s at least a stylistic choice and it does sort of fit given the way the kid chose to respond. It reads like a rant, which is what it’s supposed to be. Either way though, I think it’s pretty clear the reason for the zero — if it is a real essay and it really was scored zero — isn’t the writing style. Low score, sure, but zero? I suppose you could argue he deserves it because he didn’t follow the prompt to the letter since he didn’t choose one of the provided perspectives, which it implies you have to. Still, seems like a stretch to say this deserves NO CREDIT because of that, or because of some poor writing.


  6. @ Fake Essays: Of course they aren’t released to the public, but many people who work for the GaoKao grading the test must read them, and it’s possible some of them stole some essays they thought were interesting, or took pictures of them with cameras so they could type them up later.

    I’m not saying that’s what happened — there’s no way to prove it one way or the other — but it isn’t impossible that they’re real.


  7. Yes, I agree with you it was worth translating anyway, even if there is no way to prove it.

    Regarding “well written”, I didn’t mean the writing style, I meant the content. I think it is clever and inspired, not anyone would come up with something like this under the pressure of an exam, I think they only get like 30 minutes to do this, right?


  8. I think the idea reflected from an article is much more important than the writting skill, as long as the wording is accurate and smooth, easy for people to understand. Writing skill can make a plus but should never be taken as the only criterion of an essay especially when it relates to a young man’s future (you all know the importance of college entrance exam in China). If such essay was scored a zero, it just shows how wrongly the evaluating person did and raises up another essential question, what’s the purpose of education? To encourage students composing euphuistical article with stereotypes devoid of content or encourge them thinking differently and actively getting involved with social events. We can learn more about this through the book “Don’t Laugh! GaoKao Essays That Got a Zero” since the editor placed the essays with zero mark and full mark together. And take a look at Hanhan, he has been abused by some members of writer association for many years, the latter say he doesn’t know how to write. Does he?


  9. This is not Gaokao essay and nothing new. It’s almost impossible to get zero in Gaokao essay. Unless you leave the page blank, the graders would give you some “labor points” even they think it’s poorly written. As one who passed Gaokao, I can testify that the whole purpose of writing the essay is to impress your grader in the first few glances so a good essay has to be both concise and thought provoking. People who wrote these “Gaokao essays” are promoting themselves or their ideas with the hype around Gaokao.

    Relax and read them purely for fun. You get lost if you think too much.


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